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How to de-masculinize the Church: an experience with young seminarians

05 January 2024

“If we do not understand what a woman is, what a woman's theology is, we will never understand what the Church is. One of the great sins we have had is to ‘masculinize’ the Church”, Pope Francis said during his latest meeting with the International Theological Commission. Urging all, to “demasculinize the Church”.

For some years now, I have been speaking to courses within seminaries as a professor of philosophy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum and the Teresianum Faculty of Theology in Rome amongst other locations.

My experience leads me to say that what Francis is asking for is possible if priests are redeemed in their relationship with women, and consequently learn to make their life as a priest a gift, not a power.

Only if they are educated to let themselves be enriched and completed by embodied and concrete femininities will they be able to overcome the temptation to dominate, possess or masculinize the Church.

I meet many young people; I believe that the necessary change can start from them. I am reminded of a letter I received some years ago from a priest friend in which he says, “You taught me what a woman is; this made me understand how to be a man, and what love means. And only now do I feel ready to give my life for the Church”.

I had walked with this young man for several years while he was still a seminarian. Upon entering the seminary, he had behind him a few love affairs with women. Unfortunately, not always with happy endings.  He said he had felt used by many girls, and so he had decided to use them in return.  “It wasn’t pretty, but you had to survive somehow”.  He had entered the seminary after a very deep experience of encountering Christ, and with a firm decision to live his life in a completely different way.

Therefore, it was. In the intervening years, he had revealed himself to be an honest man, steadfast in his love for God and in his choice of a celibate life. Nevertheless, he carried with him a certain suspicion, which was if it really was possible to experience a relationship with a women that was not somehow distorted? Perhaps not for him.

His confrontation and friendship with me led him to an entirely new experience of femininity. Not impositional, not contradictory. As he became convinced that he was on safe ground to dialogue and mutual respect, he lowered his defenses and took off his masks. He discovered that equal confrontation and sincere affection unified people rather than cause rifts between us.  That a woman’s beauty was a strength, not an obstacle.

Experiencing this redeemed relationship led him to look at his masculinity with a new pair of eyes. He was no longer a Don Juan ready to seduce, but a man capable of selflessly seeking the good of the other, and to cherish it. He discovered the dynamic of love, which is that of giving and gratuitousness. Moreover, this enabled him to enter into the mystery of Christ’s love for his Church. In his transfigured manhood blossomed a spousal love toward the Church, which involved all the resources of his manhood.

by Marta Rodriguez